by Marty Demarest

Connie and Carla stars two of our most hilarious screen brides: Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) and Toni Collette (Muriel's Wedding). Unfortunately, neither of them approaches the altar in this film, since they both spend most of the movie posing as unfunny gay men.

Vardalos and Collette are Connie and Carla, two lifelong friends dedicated to showing airport lounge visitors the wonders of musical theater. But after witnessing a murder and getting stuck with the obligatory hidden kilo of cocaine, the two decide to forgo their mission as artistic ambassadors and travel to the least cultured place they can imagine.

It's a tough decision for the pair, who have gamely belted their way through medleys of Oklahoma and Cats since they were in grade school. "I only have one life," Connie tells her unsupportive boyfriend shortly before she leaves him. "I want it to be a happy one." A few days later, the girls are in West Hollywood, a place known -- in some circles -- as the happiest place on earth.

Beguiled by the hairstyle-and-makeup lifestyle of the local drag scene, the two break out their act and land a job as regular entertainment at a small gay bar. Nobody knows they're women, and since everyone in the film seems to have a married person's lack-of-interest in sex, they go largely unmolested until David Duchovny comes along.

Duchovny, as the brother of one of the girls' upstairs neighbors, is alluring presumably because he's the only straight male they meet. Fortunately, in drag movies, increasingly elaborate costume changes can substitute for sexual chemistry and plot development. Unfortunately, here Connie and Carla does the unforgivable in a post-Priscilla, Queen of the Desert world: It has a bland wardrobe. Instead of over-the-top costumes, Connie and Carla has multicolored vests and an occasional fishnet stocking. Instead of headdresses that can impale mobsters, the movie has loose beads and straw hats. Even the obligatory apartment makeover, in which Connie and Carla's new neighbors welcome them, is boring. Maybe Queer Eye for the Straight Guy has raised unreasonable expectations, but I want more from gay men than a sofa throw and a votive candle.

Both Vardalos and Collette are at their best when they can display all the anxieties of love and relationships without a shred of self-consciousness. Neither gets the chance here. Vardalos makes a great drag queen with her wide eyes and supple face, but any brassy sexuality she has gets lost in the muddle that is David Duchovny. Collette, one of cinema's gamest actresses, is mostly unseen unless one of the film's musical numbers is trudging across the screen.

Even the surreal Debbie Reynolds, Connie and Carla's wellspring of motivation throughout the movie, can't save this artificial comedy. When she appears, with her motto of "chin up, tits out," I thought things would come to life. But as Connie's fellow drag performers (the real ones) discovered when they poked, hefted and listened to her breasts during a dance rehearsal, there's no faking the real thing. Rated: PG-13

Publication date: 04/22/04

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